Bruce Jenner Mosquito Gene Could Help Eradicate Dengue
A gene that determines the gender of the Aedes aegypti mosquito could be a game changer in war on dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever. Only female mosquitoes carry and spread these diseases among humans because they need our blood to sustain their eggs, so changing their sex from female to male – in other words, pulling a reverse Jenner – could effectively render them innocuous. “This study provides the foundation for developing mosquito control strategies by converting females into harmless males or selectively eliminating deadly females,” researchers with the Fralin Life Science Institute at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg wrote in Science Express.
More than two thirds of female mosquito embryos injected with the gene – called Nix – developed male genitalia and testes. “Nix provides us with exciting opportunities to harness mosquito sex in the fight against infectious diseases because maleness is the ultimate disease-refractory trait,” biochemist at Virginia Tech professor Zhijian Jake Tu said. Doctoral candidate in Prof. Tu's laboratory Brantley Hall added that “targeted reduction of A. aegypti populations in areas where they are non-native could have little environmental impact, and drastically improve human health.” The researchers found the gene in the mosquitoes’ version of the Y chromosome, inside a male-determining region called the M locus.
After discovering Nix the scientists did what scientists do best – play God. They found that switching the gene off caused males to lose major genital traits, while expressing the gene on different parts of the insect’s genetic code resulted in the masculinization of female sex organs. “We're not there yet, but the ultimate goal is to be able to establish transgenic lines that express Nix in genetic females to convert them to harmless males,” entomologist and associate professor at Fralin Zach Adelman said. Not to perpetuate stereotypes of bloodsucking femme fatales that can bring the downfall of Man with only one bite – such as that which Eve took from an apple – but this discovery could certainly lead to a turning point in the fight against mosquito-borne diseases and possibly to their ultimate eradication.